"Oh my friends, my friends forgive me You might be
That I live and you are gone.
There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on..."
the Last Of Your Kind
or someone else made a Heroic Sacrifice
for you but whatever the reason, you're going to feel a massive sense of guilt. An easy way to generate Angst
. Expect this to occur when the Mary Sue
dies or a husband survives the death of his family
. Practically a guarantee in cases of Death by Childbirth
Can also lead to the victim becoming a Death Seeker
or Failure Knight
. May cause Bad Dreams
, Drowning My Sorrows
, and various other ways to cope, while trusted friends and/or professionals plead with him to realize that he has nothing to beat himself up about. Contrast You Should Have Died Instead
, where one survivor tries to evoke Survivor Guilt
Truth in Television
: Survivor's Guilt is a common symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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Anime and Manga
Viral: Don't you have the slightest idea? The depths of MY SHAME!? The humiliation of always being the sole survivor!? How much I had beg to take part of this battle!? JUST SO I COULD BE ABLE TO FACE YOU!?
- The premise of Ordinary People.
- Zac Hobson has a case of this in The Quiet Earth after discovering that he might just be the last human alive—compounded by the fact that he was part of the research team that caused the mass extinction in the first place- and spends several weeks going insane from loneliness and guilt. He gets better after encountering two other survivors.
- In Stand by Me, Gordie has a bit of a case of survivor's guilt over the death of his older brother, not because he was involved in it in any way so much as because he is The Unfavorite and thinks his parents would prefer it if he'd been the one who died instead of his brother.
- Nicolas Cage's character in Windtalkers.
- In Repo! The Genetic Opera, Nathan Wallace wishes that he had died instead of his wife, Marni. As mentioned in the song "I Didn't Know I'd Love You So Much":
"Sometimes I'd stay up all night/ Wishing to God that I was the one who died"
- Det. Del Spooner of I, Robot has this as a reason for hating robots. During a car accident where he and a girl were trapped in cars sinking into the lake, a robot saved him but not the girl. The robot claims that Spooner had a better chance of survival than the girl (whose odds were statistically non-existent), a reasoning he hates since he believes that a true human would gladly sacrifice their life to save the girl no matter how futile.
- A deleted scene from Unbreakable has Bruce Willis' character having a Shower of Angst while hearing reports of the train crash, of which, he was the lone survivor.
- A scene that was never filmed from Superman Returns was to have given this to Superman... as he gazed on Ground Zero in New York City. The writers' idea was that his thought process would essentially be If I had been here, maybe this wouldn't have happened.
- In Pitch Black Riddick is briefly struck with this near the end after Fry is killed when she goes back to save him, if his screaming protests of "Not for me! Not for ME!" are any indication.
- In "I Miss You I Miss You" there is a heartbreaking scene where Tina addresses this. She was running just one step ahead of her twin sister when her sister was hit by a car and killed. Afterward she has nightmares where her sister wants them to trade places, and sometimes hears her sister's voice in her head.
Cilla's voice: I don't want to die, Tina. I want to live.
Tina: (sobbing) I want to live too, Cilla. I want to live. Let me be. Let me be. I want to live, Cilla! If I had only watched where I was going. If only I had seen the car.
- The Guardian has Ben Randall who is feeling this after being the only survivor of a botched rescue.
- The film adaptation of Schindler's List has shades of this. After his Heel Face Turn, Schindler financially ruins himself bribing Nazi officials in an effort to save Jews from the Holocaust. After he escapes, he forlornly notices that hawking his getaway car could've saved more lives, too, and the Nazi party pin he wore could've bribed someone for just one life.
- Discussed in Dr. Strangelove regarding an After the End nuclear scenario. President Muffley raises the question paraphrasing Khrushchev; "Won't the living envy the dead?" but Strangelove easily dismisses the concept, pointing out that joie de vivre will prevail.
- In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Tonks starts becoming Wangsty, and this is attributed to survivor guilt after the events of the previous book where her mother's cousin Sirius Black dies. However, it turns out that she has an unrequited crush on Lupin (as he's afraid of hurting her).
- Harry goes through this here and there throughout the series; in Goblet of Fire he said, "I told [Cedric] to take the Cup with me." And the enormous guilt he feels in Deathly Hallows over the people who died protecting him.
- Also in Deathly Hallows, we find out that Dumbledore is a textbook case.
- This trope is the reason Sirius Black blamed himself for the deaths of James and Lily Potter and the muggles killed by Peter Pettigrew.
- I Am Legend.
- An awful lot of people from the Star Wars Expanded Universe, actually. (Granted, recently the novels tend to kill off everything from main characters to Mauve Shirts with impunity...)
- Specific examples from the X-Wing Series. Wedge Antilles has largely, though not entirely, handled this, but it pops up sometimes while he bears The Chains of Commanding and considers the friends he's sent to their deaths. Kell Tainer has incredible angst over failing to save a wingmate and being honored for the attempt. Myn Donos. And Tyria Sarkin is the last of her branch of the Antarian Rangers, sort of semi-Jedi, and she always feels that she's not nearly good enough to live up to them.
- In Gav Thorpe's Warhammer 40000 novel 13th Legion, Kage throws away his pardon by starting a brawl at the end. In the subsequent novels, Schaeffer, more than once, points out that this was what motivated him, as he was the last of the four thousand the legion started out with.
- In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40000 Ultramarines novel The Warriors of Ultramar, Sister Joaniel's Back Story included being the sole survivor of a direct hit on a field hospital.
- Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 Gaunt's Ghosts series is based in this trope. The Tanith Ghosts are the only survivors of their planet's destruction and it motivates and haunts them. The Verghastite Ghosts chose to join the regiment after their hive city was declared a Necropolis and abandoned in the wake of a Chaos attack that many of them fought in as civilian militia.
- This is the plot of the Lurlene McDaniel book The Girl Death Left Behind, as the main character's family dies in a car wreck (on the 4th of July, no less) and she struggles with the aftermath.
- Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway watched his friend die in World War I and suffers from hallucinations.
- In the Last Herald Mage series, Vanyel has a major case of this over the death of his True Love: not only is he heartbroken, he thinks he can never measure up to Tylendel, either as a new mage or in his aunt's affections (Tylendel was a sort of surrogate son for his aunt). He turns out to be quite wrong on both counts.
- Honor Harrington, frequently. She has a habit of going up against impossible odds, prepared to make a Heroic Sacrifice... and surviving. But that doesn't mean that everyone else who went into battle with her will survive, and she beats herself up over it. As the series goes on, she becomes better at dealing with it. It helps that these situations are often ones in which everyone should have died - regardless of how few survive, they wouldn't have without her.
- Berry Zilwicki is also said to be dealing with this after surviving an assassination attempt aimed at killing her in At All Costs.
- Taran experiences this in Taran Wanderer, the fourth book of the Prydain Chronicles, when he's unable to save the life of the shepherd Craddoc.
- Averted with Baron Harkonnen in Dune, where Leto tries to poison Harkonnen with a gas in a fake tooth and ends up taking out everyone in the room except for Harkonnen (he managed to evade it at the last second), and his immediate reaction is joy that he survived, and everyone else is dead.
- In Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut, this is explicitly brought up as afflicting Rabo Karabekian's Armenian father, but not his (equally Armenian) mother.
- Present in full force in Soldiers Live, the last of the Black Company books, largely due to the Kill 'em All mentality.
- In Vilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants Robert feels this way after the death of Arvid on the California trail.
- Word Of God is that the main theme of Mystic River is survivor's guilt, mainly from Sean and Jimmy, who avoided being abducted and abused by two pedophiles when they were kids while their friend Dave was victimized, and from Sean because he managed to escape the neighborhood and make a good life for himself as a cop.
- One of the many things Tina has to deal with after her twin sister Cilla's death in "I Miss You I Miss You". Tina was running just one step ahead of Cilla when she got hit by a car and killed, and it could just as easily have been Tina who died.
- The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen has this in spades.
- Peeta on the other hand seems to have shockingly little of this. However this could be because the story is told through Katniss' eyes and we never know exactly what Peeta is feeling.
Live Action TV
- In Doctor Who, The Doctor gets darker due to his entire race (apart from The Master, but he didn't know about him at the time) being killed off.
- Guilt compounded by the apparent fact that he caused whatever destroyed the other Time Lords (along with the Daleks) in the first place, as indicated in the episode "Dalek":
Doctor: Your race is dead! You all burned, all of you! Ten million ships on fire—the entire Dalek race, wiped out in one second!
Dalek: You lie!
Doctor: I watched it happen. I made it happen!
- He didn't simply cause it. In The End of Time, it becomes clear that he killed the Time Lords on purpose, to prevent them from destroying reality. In a case of Fridge Brilliance, this is obvious in retrospect: after the Doctor ended the Time War, legions of Daleks survived, but only one other Time Lord.
- This trope is arguably the defining personality trait for the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, although Ten is a lot better at hiding it.
- In The Waters of Mars, the Tenth Doctor finally snaps. As he walks away from the Mars colony as it's being destroyed, knowing that it, being a fixed point in time, cannot be saved, he hears the screams of the perishing people in his headset. Eventually it gets too much, and the Doctor, utterly terrified of becoming the single survivor once again, turns back and, in a frenzy, tries to take control of the laws of time. Things go From Bad to Worse, and his actions ultimately end up having no effect anyway.
- The Eleventh Doctor also experiences it from time to time. Unless Gallifrey is restored at some point, it's likely that all Post-Time War Doctors will experience it once in awhile.
- Surprisingly well-done in Supernatural. Dean's been feeling this since Faith but it was ramped to 1000 when his father died. Season Two bends and damages him so much that, by the time All Hell Breaks Loose rolls around, he's been reduced to a broken, martyred little boy who has a pathological need to keep Sam (who, contrary to his and his Dad's belief, is actually a big boy now who might have been at peace) alive.
- Also, Sam for Jess in Season One and John for Mary his entire life. While Dean's situation is Survivor Guilt taken to the most extreme level, their guilt was portrayed as no less tragic.
- Although both Harry and Chakotay survive the destruction of the Voyager in Star Trek: Voyager (at least in an alternate timeline), only Harry really feels this. Or rather, he represents the external guilt, and Chakotay represents the internal guilt.
- That Family Ties episode about Alex's friend who died when Alex hadn't gone with him.
- A similar episode about the suicide of one of Mallory's friends. In one scene, she berates herself for not realizing how depressed the girl was.
- Tyzonn in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive takes the "vengeance" route after his rescue squad, including his fiancée, gets murdered in action. Also "Doggie" Cruger of Power Rangers SPD, who has vowed never to fight again after losing his people and his wife in a genocidal war. (Both women turn up OK at the end.)
- In House at the end of season four, there is a sense of this after House survives a bus crash.
- In Caprica Lacy experiences a great deal of guilt and regret over the fact that she was almost on the train that exploded in the first half hour of the pilot, killing her best friend Zoe Graystone (along with two other important characters).
- Shows up a lot in the Babylon 5 universe; including Crusade, sufferers include Sinclair, Sheridan, Galen and Gideon.
- Owen on Grey's Anatomy. His unit was wiped out in Iraq, with him as the lone survivor. This gives him PTSD in the form of vivid nightmares.
- Also Amanda the girl that George pulled out from in front of a Bus. She survives with minor injuries, while George is killed. For a month or so afterwards, Amanda spent every day sitting in front of the hospital, uncertain of how to carry on with her life.
- Teen Wolf:
- Derek obviously blames himself for his family's death, as Kate Argent seduced him to get to his family.
- In his hallucination, Stiles reveals that he feels guilty for his mother's death and believes that his father blames him.
- Elena, Bonnie, Matt and Tyler suffer from this on The Vampire Diaries.
- In The Twilight Zone TOS episode "King Nine Will Not Return", James Embry feels guilty about not being with his crew mates when their bomber was lost in action during World War 2. He wasn't on the mission because he was seriously ill.
- "Serenity," the pilot episode of Firefly shows Captain Malcolm Reynolds as a man of faith, smiling in the face of death in the Battle of Serenity Valley, cheerfully telling a subordinate that God will save them because they're too pretty to die. Moments later, this trope hits him hard, and he never fully recovers.
- NCIS carries the heavy implication that Gibbs suffered from this from his wife and daughter being killed by a Mexican drug dealer (whom he got revenge by killing him in what was heavily implied to be under a felony). The episode "Life before his eyes" alleviates the guilt somewhat when his wife (or rather, a figment of her while he was in Limbo) reveals what would have happened had they survived.note Mike Franks also reveals that, had Gibbs not killed the aforementioned Mexican drug dealer, he would have been far worse off (he would have been a drunk recluse who coldly drives away even his friends from helping him) after Riley McCallister points out his earlier felony sending him into a Heroic BSOD in the same episode.
- Gibbs also suffers from this when Kate was killed by Ari, who was after him. His hallucination of her literally yells at him, "Why did i die instead of you!?"
- Andrew felt this way in the Buffy finale and actually asked "why didn't I die?" Part of him was afraid to die while part of him wanted to be killed as punishment for aiding The First and killing Jonathan.
- In the M*A*S*H, episode, "Trick or Treatment," Hawkeye has a patient who is starving himself because his buddies in a foxhole were killed during an artillery burst while eating. The patient survived by pure chance because he ate quickly and went back to the chow line for seconds and now cannot even look at food because of his guilt. Hawkeye sets up an appointment with his psychiatrist friend, Dr. Sidney Freedman, for him to help.
- Josh Lyman on The West Wing. When he was a kid he survived a house fire that killed his older sister and he still sees a therapist about it some thirty years later.
- The very title of the Law & Order: UK episode that dealt with Matt Devlin's death. The opening sequence showed his partner Ronnie Brooks speaking to his AA group, clearly tormenting himself, feeling that if he had just gotten to him sooner, he could have prevented him from being shot, perhaps even taken the bullet for him (The sad irony is Matt died doing exactly this for his friend/colleague Alesha Phillips and the young witness in their case). Later, while talking with Alesha, he laments that unlike him, Matt never got a chance to get married and have children. Later still, while talking with his killer, who was acting out of misplaced vengeance over the death of brother, he correctly deduces that young man loved his brother so much that even now he would take his place in order to bring him back—mirroring his feelings about Matt..
- In Primeval, this seems to be the source of Becker's Heroic BSOD in the beginning of season four. He's the only member of the field team left after Abby, Connor, and Danny are lost in the past (and presumed dead) and Sarah dies while on a mission with him to get them back. He doesn't really take it all well.
- Stargate Atlantis: McKay develops a bad case of this when Griffin chooses to drown so McKay can have a chance at survival in "Grace Under Pressure." Rodney later feels extremely guilty because he'd been pretty mean to Griffin and there was no reason Griffin should have sacrificed himself.
- In Rent, Mark uses this as his defense as for why he got Married to the Job: he's one of the few people in the circle that doesn't have HIV or AIDS, and will likely outlive most of his friends.
- In Les Misérables, Marius suffers from survivor's guilt after being the only one to survive the barricades. "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables", his mourning song for his friends, is essentially Survivor Guilt: The Song.
- Anyone who wins a Survival of the Fittest game, for obvious reasons.
- Tasakeru: In the first month of his service as a samurai, Zero's squad of rookies was ambushed by a fanatical Death God cult. Seventeen died and more were injured, but Zero survived without a scratch. This resulted in his fleeing to Tasakeru and becoming a Ronin.
- In Worm, Chapter 19.7 reveals that this is what caused Tattletale's trigger event.
- Gunrunner was a Transformers Autobot commander. His entire squadron was slaughtered, except for him, due to his pretender shell. Worse, he promised them all they would get out alive.
- Depth Charge from Beast Wars was the only survivor of a Maximal colony destroyed by Ax Crazy Predacon, Rampage. Rampage slaughtered everyone else and even ate some of them. As a result he made it his personal mission to hunt Rampage down and kill him.
- Nightscream from Beast Machines displays signs of this, particularly in the episode "Survivor." Within the episode, Nightscream and Optimus discover an underground, organic cave within Cybertron that houses numerous fossilized animals. Optimus is overjoyed, as it implies that Cybertron was once an organic world. Nightscream, on the other hand, becomes enraged/heartbroken, commenting that there were enough fossils for the entire Maximal population to scan, which would have saved them from Megatron's takeover (Megatron's scanners cannot detect Cybertronians with beast modes).
- G1 Bluestreak is described as the only survivor of his city, and presumably developed his nervous habit of constant chatterboxing to fill the silence.
- On Avatar The Last Airbender, Aang goes through this phase in the episode "The Storm".
"The Fire Nation attacked our temple. My people needed me, and I wasn't there to help."
- The Justice League Unlimited episode "Hereafter" features an interesting version. Superman is flung far into the future, where the Earth is a wasteland under a red sun. The sole surviving human is the immortal Vandal Savage, who reveals that he ended up destroying humanity in one of his plans for world domination. Guilty for what he did, he assists Supes in returning to his own time and stopping him.
- From the same episode, back in the present day, the League and Toyman think that Superman is dead. Superman got hit by shoving Batman and Wonder Woman out of the way of Toyman's ray. Wonder Woman gets homicidal over survivor's guilt, and Toyman only survives thanks to The Flash.
- Demona from Gargoyles is the poster girl for this trope. Surviving the near extermination of her kind, compounded by her being immortal so she can't even join her dead kin unless she lets Macbeth kill her, has left her with the need to use humanity as a scapegoat because facing that sorrow and guilt scares her.
- Cleveland from The Cleveland Show. When his ex-wife Loretta dies, it forms a rift between him and his wife because of how broken up he is over it. Eventually he figures it must be survivor's guilt, because he'd repeatedly survived what killed her: Peter destroying his house, which caused his bathtub to slide off the second floor and shatter. (He survived this 4 times in Family Guy and 3 times in his own show, but the first time it happened to her, she broke her neck).
- Four words: Post. Traumatic. Stress. Disorder. Or at least, this is one thing that can lead to it.
- Anne Frank often wrote about having nightmares of her friends imprisoned in concentration camps while she felt safely hidden. Now consider that Frank's family did end up in those camps eventually. Now go a step further, and remember that her father survived, but she did not. Nor did anyone else that was in hiding with her. Nor any of their friends or family who didn't escape before the German occupation.
- A lot of war veterans experience this.
- Family and loved ones of those who commit suicide.
- And people who attempt suicide and fail may get a VERY twisted form of this, because either they couldn't even manage to DIE properly, they feel like they've been cheated out of relief, or they feel they "chickened out" and have now burdened their loved ones with financial and emotional stress—the exact thing they wanted to avoid.
- School bullying. While some 80% of the bullies end up later in prison and their victims all too often in suicide, it leaves nobody unscatched. Those pupils lucky enough to be bystanders may develop severe case of Survivor Guilt.
- Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent assigned to protect Jackie Kennedy, suffered this after the JFK assassination. He revealed in an interview how much he regretted not moving a second faster and taking the third (and fatal) bullet himself.
- You. Statistically, you will have a conversation with a loved one that goes south, and you will get chilly and distant. Both of you wait for the other one to come to their senses, and then something will happen to prevent you from ever making it up. You get to dwell on the pointless, petty nonsense that divided you in those remaining days, and always get to wonder whether you could have saved them by doing things just a little different. Here's what Xkcd has to say on the matter.
- Inverted with one widow whose husband was killed coming home on their anniversary with vacation tickets in his pocket. They had made a habit of saying "I love you" to each other every day, and that day the husband had tried to slip out without waking her. She chased him down, and said that the reason she could go on was that her last words to him were "I LOVE YOU[sic]!" *sniff*
- Actor Telly Savalas, before his rise to fame, worked as a lifeguard, and never forgave himself for the drowning death of a man on his watch.
- The Arlington National Cemetery was created in the aftermath of the American Civil War, intentionally invoking this trope: it was built in the backyard of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
- Bruce Ismay who was on the Titanic suffered a long term depression and blamed himself for what happened on the doomed vessel, being quoted as saying he felt he didn't deserve to live.
- James Cameron's Titanic later defamed him by making up that he was the first on the lifeboats and did nothing to help rescue people, when in reality he actually got 6 people on the boats and only left on the very last lifeboat.
- A couple of years ago, a woman came home to find her two teenaged daughters brutally attacked and raped, with the eldest already dead. Years later, after the killer had found religion and wanted to atone for what he did, and was waiting on death row and requested to speak to the mother and surviving sister. When she did, all she could ask was why did she survive when her sister didn't. Turns out that, as well as dealing with the obvious trauma, she was also suffering a massive case of Survivors guilt.
- This is often the case with genocide survivors, and is partly why, save for the case of the Holocaust (Basically the only one that got widespread recognition), you generally don't hear a lot about them from the survivors until fifty years later sometimes, if at all.